A practical foreign exchange and currency guide on sending money and travel to Guatemala
There are dozens of historical sites to explore in this country, but there are other charms here as well, such as the colonial city of Antigua, the lively market of Chichicastenango, the incredible ancient ruins of Tikal, and many awesome volcanoes and lakes. All that plus dense jungles, colonial cities, and relatively inexpensive food makes Guatemala one of the best places in the region.
Active souls tend to find their agenda very full once they get to Guatemala. Stunning trekking routes through the jungles and up volcanoes, world-class white-water rafting, miles of caves to explore, and what seems like a zip line strung between every two trees in the country are just the beginning.
The US dollar is widely accepted in Guatemala, but it is still recommended to have Guatemalan quetzals on hand at all times. It can be difficult to break larger bills (like Q100) in smaller towns and at local restaurants—for this reason it is always a good idea to keep some smaller bills in your wallet. Guatemala is one of the most affordable countries in Central America. You can travel very cheaply or spend a little more and live in real comfort or luxury. Budget travelers can get by on as little as $20 a day, while $70 a day will allow you to travel reasonably well. In tourism destinations, things tend to be slightly more expensive, although there are usually inexpensive hotels and restaurants as well.
ATMs are available throughout most of Guatemala and are easily accessible for international travelers. ATMs usually charge a fee for foreign credit and debit cards. It’s a good idea to notify your bank in advance and tell them that you’ll be traveling—if they don’t know you’ll be out of the country and see a withdrawal abroad, they may put a hold on your account.
Credit cards are increasingly being accepted throughout Guatemala. Even so, they are still mainly only accepted in larger cities, major tourist destinations, and at upscale hotels, restaurants, and shops. Smaller businesses may charge a fee (usually 7–10 percent) to offset the amount that they are charged by the credit card companies. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards.
At present, domestic flights within Guatemala are fairly limited. The only regularly scheduled flights travel between Guatemala City and Flores, with a flight time of about 45 minutes. There are, however, ongoing improvements to many airports around the country – including those at Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, Retalhuleu, and Puerto San José. Most flights between Guatemala City and Flores are on small planes, and airfare can be expensive. Even so, domestic flights can be a good option for travelers with a limited timeframe.
Buses go almost everywhere in Guatemala, and the buses will leave you with some of your most vivid memories of the country. Most of them are ancient school buses from the US and Canada. It is not unusual for a local family of five to squeeze into seats that were originally designed for two child-sized bottoms. Many travelers know these vehicles as chicken buses, after the live cargo accompanying many passengers. Some routes, especially between big cities, are served by more comfortable buses with the luxury of one seat per person. The best buses are labeled ‘Pullman,’ ‘especial’ or ‘primera clase.’ Occasionally these may have bathrooms (but don’t count on them working), televisions and even food service.
The Caribbean town of Lívingston is only reachable by boat, across the Bahía de Amatique from Puerto Barrios or down the Río Dulce from the town of Río Dulce – both great trips. In Lago de Atitlán fast fiberglass launches zip across the waters between villages – by far the best way to get around.
You can drive in Guatemala with your home-country driver’s license or with an International Driving Permit (IDP). Guatemalan driving etiquette will probably be very different from what you’re used to back home however.
The below comparison table makes it easy to find the best exchange rates and lowest fees when you want to make a Transfer or Spend Guatemalan quetzal.
24 Nov 2021
09 Sep 2021
08 Dec 2020
09 Dec 2016
11 Dec 2011
13 Dec 2001